The Church of God - His Family
The church of God is set before us in many ways in the Scriptures. It is the kingdom of God. It is the bride of Christ. And it is the family of God. It is as the family of God that God’s saints are addressed in 1st John. This is an intimate, family epistle. John was an old man when the book was written, an old man who had faithfully served Christ and his church for many years. Though this epistle is not specifically addressed to an individual local church, John writes in these five chapters as a father to his beloved children. It is obvious that he wrote this letter to an assembly in which he was in very close, personal relationship, an assembly that loved and respected him as children do a good and faithful father. The fact that this epistle is not addressed to any specific local church is clearly an indication that it is the intent of the Holy Spirit that every gospel church receive it as a Word from God our Father specifically to his family, to his beloved children in this world.
Robert Hawker wrote, of this epistle, “One sweet feature runs through the whole of it, in relation to the church, namely, the apostle’s testimony to the Father’s love, the Son’s grace, and the Holy Spirit’s fellowship.”
Like the apostles Peter, Paul, and James, John was very concerned with the evil influence of false teachers and false religion. John specifically exposes the Gnostic heresy so prevalent in his day, and increasingly so in our day. Gnostics claim to have a special degree of knowledge, by which they have arrived at salvation. Salvation does not come by knowledge, but by revelation. Salvation is not in what we know, but who. — “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). John deals with this decisively (1:1-3; 4:1-3; 5:1, 7).
Another heresy common in John’s day, and increasingly so in ours, is the teaching that that which is physical is evil. This leads many to deny that the Lord Jesus Christ is truly God in human flesh. It also gives rise to the ascetic heresy that righteousness is to be obtained by denying ourselves of natural, physical pleasure. The grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this world; but godliness is nowhere associated in the Book of God with what we eat, or drink, or wear. Rather, it has everything to do with “faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6).
In John’s day, as in ours, there were also many who taught perfectionism, who asserted that sinless perfection was attainable by diligent self-denial, that one could and must increase in holiness and sanctification until he has eradicated sin from his life. Of course, such heretics always deny that their doctrine is in any way a doctrine of works. They insist that they are teaching that their notion of “progressive holiness” is the result of God working in us by his Spirit and grace. John asserts that their doctrine is a total denial of all gospel truth (1:8-10). Believers know and confess their sin, looking to Christ alone for righteousness.
Then there are always those who teach that a believer’s character and conduct are of no consequence, that as long as we have knowledge of and confess the right doctrine, we may live in licentiousness, gratifying the flesh, and live in communion with God at the same time. Such crass antinomianism has plagued the church from its beginning. But John declares that all who live in licentiousness are children of the devil, not children of God, no matter what they profess to believe (1 John 3:10).
A Pastor’s Concern
John obviously did not write as an academic. Everything in these five chapters displays the concern of a faithful, loving pastor’s heart. Throughout the book he addresses his readers as his “little children” (2:1, 12, 13, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21), first stating something and then repeating it again and again, as one would instruct a small child.
The gospel of John was written that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing they might have life through his name (John 20:31). John wrote this epistle because he wanted every believer to know, to be confidently assured of the fact, that he has eternal life in Christ (5:9-13).
The Word of God
In chapter 1 the apostle assures us that the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, that One in whom we trust, is the eternal Word of God. He is the Word of life, by whom we live (1:1-3; John 1:1-4).
What a mammoth volume of theology John gives us in the first three verses of this epistle. He tells us that the man Christ Jesus is eternal — “That which was from the beginning.” He is eternal life — “That eternal life, which was with the Father.” The Lord Jesus is the Word of Life — That One by whom and in whom God who is life resides and is revealed. — That One who is life and gives life. — That One in whom and by whom we have life. And he is the incarnate God — “For the life was manifested, and we have seen it,” heard it, gazed upon it with wonder, and handled it.
John wants all who believe to live together in the sweet, blessed fellowship of Christ. He tells us that which is the basis and the life of all true fellowship in verse 3. — “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” This fellowship rises from the knowledge of God in Christ and the blessed life that is ours by the sin-atoning sacrifice of Christ our Savior (1:7, 9; 2:1-2, 12; 3:5, 16; 4:9-10, 14; 5:11-13). It is the fellowship of light and knowledge (1:5-7; 2:20). It is the fellowship of faith in Christ (3:23; 5:1, 13). This blessed fellowship is the fellowship of life, righteousness, hope, and love in Christ (2:29; 3:1-3, 9-10; 4:7-11; 5:1).
Walking together in life with God, by faith in Christ, John tells us that all who are born of God, all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are the possessors of God’s boundless free grace in Christ: forgiven of all sin (1:7, 9; 2:12; 3:5), possessors of eternal life who can never perish (2:25), taught of God (2:20-27), adopted as the children of God (3:1), loved of God and made to be lovers of God (4:19), and forever accepted of God (5:11-15).
The Grace of God
In chapter 2 John gives a clear and assuring declaration of the grace of God that is ours in Christ. He begins the chapter by dealing with that which is most perplexing and troubling to God’s saints in this world — our sins! What happens when the believer sins? Do our sins destroy our relationship with God? Do our sins destroy our fellowship with God?
In the first verse John tells us that the things he has told us, and the things he is about to tell us are written for the express purpose of preventing us from sin. Then, he immediately assures us that our sins do not and cannot in anyway destroy our relationship with our Father. Do not misunderstand what John is declaring here. Yes, our sins do, very greatly, interrupt our enjoyment of God’s favor. But our sins do not and cannot destroy or lessen our acceptance with God, because the whole of our acceptance with God is in Christ, who is our unceasing, unfailing Advocate with the Father. — “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (2:1-2).
These are two of the most precious, most comforting, most soul-cheering verses to be found in the whole Word of God. Yet they remind us of a very sad fact, which we must never, forget. — All of God’s children in this world, at their very best, are still sinners. John says, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” Children of God, do not sin! We should never sin. We must oppose sin and resist it. It is an astonishing thing to realize that men and women who are loved of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ and regenerated by the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit need to be urged not to sin. But the admonition is needed by us all— Do not sin!
Still, John knew very well that all of God’s saints in this world do sin. Therefore, he says, “If any man sin.” The apostle uses gentle language, but he knew that we would sin. It was John who said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not, in us” (1:8). So long as we live in this world, in this body of flesh, we shall sin. Sin is what we are by nature. Sin is mixed with all we do. Sin mars even our best deeds. “We are all as an unclean thing; and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). All of God’s people in this world have learned to confess, with the apostle Paul, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). Every believer mournfully cries, “O wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:24), because every believer knows himself to be a vile sinner.
We do sin, but John assures us that our sins will never deprive us of our interest in Christ. Notice John’s words: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father.” Yes, though we do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father still. The text does not read, “If any man sin, he has forfeited his Advocate with the Father.” It says, “We have an Advocate,” sinners though we are.
All the sin a believer ever has committed, or ever can commit, cannot destroy his interest in Christ. We may, any one of us, fall into some dreadful, shameful, sorrowful transgression. God forbid that it should ever happen. But there is no sin, no evil thought, imagination, or deed of which you and I are not capable. Yet when we do sin, these horrible, treasonable acts can never tear us from our Savior’s heart. Aren’t you glad that God “hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103: 10)?
Child of God, I tell you plainly that the Lord Jesus Christ will never forsake his wandering sheep. He will not leave his erring child. I say, with John, “Do not sin.” May God strengthen you with grace to resist sin and to hate evil. But when you do sin, do not despair. God still declares, “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6). Mark this down as a solid pillar of gospel truth: — notwithstanding all our sin, we are perfectly justified, accepted, righteous, and beloved in Christ.
John also gives us a reason for this blessed assurance. God has provided his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as an Advocate for his sinning people. — “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins.” God will never charge his believing children with sin, because Christ has completely satisfied the justice of God for us, and he pleads the merits of his righteousness and blood for us in heaven.
The Son of God ever bears our names before the Father, pleading the merits of his own blood and righteousness for our eternal salvation. We need never fear wrath and condemnation from God, because “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins.” We know that our Advocate in heaven is an effectual Advocate, because he is “Jesus,” the “Christ,” “the Righteous,” “and he is the propitiation for our sins.”
Because Christ is our Advocate, though we face countless enemies to our souls in this world, within and without, enemies by which multitudes are destroyed, God’s elect shall abide forever (v. 17). The grace of God shall remain in you, and you “shall continue in the Son, and in the Father” (v. 25). “And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life” (v. 25). Our Savior said, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
The Sons of God
In chapter 3 the apostle John sets before us the great and glorious privilege that is ours in Christ as “the sons of God.” Here is a cause for great wonder. — “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” God Almighty so loved us that he has made us his own dear children (vv. 1-3). John Gill wrote…
“This is a privilege that exceeds all others. It is better to be a son than to be a saint. Angels are saints, but not sons. They are servants. It is better to be a child of God than to be redeemed, pardoned, and justified. It is great grace to redeem from slavery, to pardon criminals, and justify the ungodly; but it is another and a higher act of grace to make them sons; and which makes them infinitely more honorable, than to be the sons and daughters of the greatest potentate upon earth; yea, gives them an honor which Adam had not in innocence, nor the angels in heaven, who though sons by creation, yet not by adoption.”
Here is a cause for grave concern. — Our every sin is the transgression of God’s holy law and calls for judgment, wrath, and condemnation. — “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (v. 4). Here is a cause for unceasing joy and praise. — “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin” (v. 5). Christ has taken away our sins, all our sins: past, present, and future.
“There’s pardon for transgressions past:
It matters not how black their cast.
And, Oh, my soul, with wonder view,
For sins to come there’s pardon too!”
Here is a cause for constant thanksgiving and earnest prayer. — The Lord Jesus Christ, our great God, so loved us that he laid down his life for us, to save us; and we ought to love each other just that way. — “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (v. 16).
The Servants of God
In chapter 4 John tells us to test, try, and prove every preacher who claims to speak for God, distinguishing the servants of God from the messengers of Satan and antichrist by one specific thing — What they have to say concerning the person and work of Christ (vv. 1-3). Every true servant of God confesses in public as well as in private that the Lord Jesus Christ is God the Son, come in the flesh, having accomplished all that he came here to accomplish, having accomplished fully everything written in the prophets concerning the Christ. He brought in righteousness. He made an end of sin. He magnified the law and made it honorable. He saved his people from their sins. He has accomplished and obtained eternal redemption and salvation for all his people by the sacrifice of himself.
Every false prophet, every messenger of Satan, every servant of antichrist, while professing to believe in and worship Christ, denies that he has accomplished redemption by the sacrifice of himself. Every false prophet declares that you must do something to make up for that which Christ did not complete, that you must do something to make his redemption complete and effectual, that you must do something to make yourself righteous, that you must do something to atone for your own sin.
“We Love Him”
Then, John assures us both of God’s great love for us and of every believer’s love for him, telling us that our love for him is the response of our hearts to his love for us, not the other way around (vv. 9-10, 19).
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love him, because he first loved us.”
“We love him, because he first loved us.” — God’s saints differ on many points. But in this one thing every true child of God is like every other child of God: “We love him.” We do not love him as we desire. We do not love him as we know we should. We do not love him as we soon shall. But we really do love him. It is not possible for a person to experience the grace of God in salvation and not love the God of all grace. It is not possible for a person to know the efficacy of Christ’s blood in his own soul and not love his gracious Redeemer. It is not possible for a person to have his heart renewed by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit and not love the Spirit of life. In spite of our many weaknesses, sins, and failures we do honestly and sincerely confess, “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.”
We know also that we would never have loved him if he had not loved us first. The love of God for us precedes our love for him. — “He first loved us.” He loved us before we had any desire to be loved by him. He loved us before we sought his grace. He loved us before we had any repentance or faith. He loved us before we had any being. He loved us eternally. Does he not say, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness have I called thee”? He chose us, redeemed us, and called us because he loved us.
Not only does God’s love for us precede our love for God; but God’s love for us is the cause of our love for him. — “We love him, because he first loved us.” We would never have loved the Lord, if he had not intervened to conquer us with his love. In the midst of our sins and corruption, he passed by, and behold it was “the time of love.” He revealed his great love for us in Christ. As we beheld the crucified Christ dying in the place of sinners, the love of God conquered our rebel hearts. Trusting Christ as our only Savior, we are compelled to love him because he first loved us. And now we know that whatever we are, by the grace of God, we are because he loved us.
The Witness of God
In the 5th chapter John gives us the witness of God, by which our hearts are assured of salvation in Christ and acceptance with him. In the opening verses of this chapter he declares plainly that all who trust Christ are born of God and love God (vv. 1-3). Then, he assures us that all who trust Christ overcome the world (vv. 4-5). Beginning in verse 6, John gives us assuring witnesses God has given concerning his Son and the efficacy of his grace and salvation in his Son.
There are three witnesses in the earth (vv. 6 and 8). The witness of the water has reference to our Savior’s baptism, in which he symbolically fulfilled all righteousness for us, and the Father spoke from heaven declaring him to be the Son of God. The witness of the blood has reference to our Lord’s sin-atoning sacrifice, which he accomplished at Calvary. The witness of the Spirit is the witness of God the Holy Spirit to the finished work of Christ in the Scriptures and in that conviction that creates faith in God’s elect (John 16:7-11).
There are also three witnesses in heaven. — “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (v. 7). God the Father bears witness to the accomplishments of Christ, having accepted him as our sin-atoning Sacrifice. God the Son bears witness to his own accomplishments as our Mediator, pleading the merits of his blood and righteousness before God for us. And God the Holy Spirit bears witness, convincing sinners to come to the throne of grace for mercy, through faith in Christ alone.
God’s Witness Within
In verses 9-15 John concludes that if we receive anything at the mouth of two or three witnesses among men, we surely ought to receive the infinitely greater witness of our God, and be assured of his grace.
“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. (He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”
The apostle gives us one final word of assurance in verse 20. — “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” Then he gives us a tender, but much needed, admonition in verse 21. — “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”
 John Gill’s comments on this verse of Holy Scripture are so important that they cannot be omitted, even in this brief survey of 1 John. — “This is not only a proof of the Deity of each of these three persons, inasmuch as they, are not only said to be “one”, that is, one God; and their witness is called the witness of God (1 John 5:9), but of a Trinity of Persons, in the unity of the divine essence. This unity of essence, or nature, is asserted and secured, by their being said to be one. This respects not a mere unity of testimony, but of nature.
It is not said of them, as of the witnesses on earth, that they “agree in one”; but that they “are one”. And they may be called a Trinity, inasmuch as they are “three”; and a Trinity of Persons, since they are not only spoken of as distinct from each other, the Father from the Word and Holy Ghost, the Word from the Father and the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Word; but a personal action is ascribed to each of them.
They are all three said to be testifiers, or to bear record; which cannot be said of mere names and characters; nor be understood of one person under different names. If the one living and true God only bears record, first under the character of a Father, then under the character of a Son, or the Word, and then under the character of the Holy Ghost; testimony, indeed, would be given three times, but there would be but one testifier, not three, as the apostle asserts.
Suppose one man should, for one man may bear the characters, and stand in the relations of father, son, and master; of a father to a child of his own; of a son, his father being living; and of a master to servants under him; suppose, I say, this man should come into a court of judicature, and be admitted to bear testimony in an affair there depending, and should give his testimony first under the character of a father, then under the character of a son, and next under the character of a master; every one will conclude, that though there was a testimony three times given, yet there was but one, and not three, that bore record.
This text is so glaring a proof of the doctrine of the Trinity, that the enemies of it have done all they can to weaken its authority, and have pushed hard to extirpate it from a place in the sacred writings.”